Recent Commonplace Entries


“Try to understand what the author wishes to do, and the do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.” (John Updike’s advice on book-reviewing, according to Adam Begley in the Spectator, November 21)

“That these two [Hitler and Stalin] should be seen as anything other than the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of totalitarianism might seem obvious to anyone beyond the late Eric Hobsbawm, but it does need to be restated occasionally, and Rees does so eloquently.” (Andrew Roberts, in review of Laurence Rees’s Hitler and Stalin in Times Literary Supplement, November 20)

“In an influential essay, “Minimum Wage, Maximum Folly,” published in 2007, he argued that a minimum wage (it was $5.85 at the time) came with ‘legally mandated fringe benefits such as employer payments for Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, and worker-compensation programs at federal and state levels’ that ‘run as high as 30 percent of the hourly wage.’ ‘Put oneself in the place of an employer,’ he wrote, ‘and ask: Does it make sense for me to hire a worker who is so unfortunate as to have skills enabling him to produce $4 worth of value per hour when he is going to cost me $8 an hour? Most employers would see doing so a losing economic proposition and not hire such a worker.’” (from obituary of Walter E. Williams in NYT, December 6)

“Guy Walter’s article about the uninvited use of first names reminds me of a nonagenarian French lady whom my wife used to drive to go shopping. If someone addressed her by her first name she would reply: ‘Have I slept with you?” (letter by Peter Fineman in the Spectator, November 28)

“If this  shameless blackmail succeeds, the populist, xenophobic, nationalist ruling parties in Hungary and Poland will be able to go on doing pretty much what they please, being paid for it generously and, for good measure, biting the German and Dutch hands that feed them.” (Timothy Garton Ash, quoted by Ivan Krastev in NYT, December 17)

“British statesmen became more liberal and less realist; though not cowards and fools, they lost some of their elders’ hard-edged realism and hard-won expertise. In intelligence, wisdom is to information as three is to one. Statesmen did not fail because intelligence was bad; they used intelligence badly because they failed as statesmen.” (from John Ferris’s Behind the Enigma, p 150)

“One of the vital lessons that a university teaches by surrounding you with learned people is that some of them will be fools however much they know. Though there can be erudition without memory, there is no wisdom without judgement.” (Clive James, in The Fire of Joy, p 238)

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” (John Allen Paulos, according to Melanie Mitchell in NYT, December 29)

ERASMUS: Integration, Mobility & Wine-and-cheese

“‘Erasmus opens people’s horizons and broadens their conceiving of the world,’ said John O’Brennan, a professor of European studies at the University of Maynooth in Ireland, where he leads a European integration program financed by Erasmus. ‘If that’s not the embodiment of the European ideal, I don’t know what it is.’”

“‘Erasmus is not only the student exchange program it’s known for, it’s also embedded in how the European Union thinks about confronting unemployment and mobility,’ said Paul James Cardwell, a law professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow who participated in the program in the 1990s.”

“‘That’s what Erasmus is about: It taught me how to appreciate wine and cheese, how to take the time to socialize through hourslong lunches,’ said Katy Jones, a 28-year-old who went to France as an Erasmus student and runs an English-language program in Lyon.” (from NYT report, December 30)

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